2017 saw hike in serious rail, pipeline accidents, says safety board

Serious accidents involving both rail and pipeline transport of dangerous substances like crude oil and gas increased in 2017 over the previous year, according to statistics compiled by the Transportation Safety Board.
Grain and oil rail cars pass by a grain elevator in Rosser, Mb., which is just outside Winnipeg, Monday, March 24, 2014. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

Serious accidents involving both rail and pipeline transport of dangerous substances like crude oil and gas increased in 2017 over the previous year, according to statistics compiled by the Transportation Safety Board.

Of the 1,090 railway incidents that were serious enough to be deemed "accidents" last year, 115 involved dangerous substances — including five accidents where the substances leaked. That's up from 100 accidents involving dangerous goods in 2016 that included only two involving leaks.

Similarly, the number of pipeline accidents went up last year to five from zero in 2016. One of those accidents resulted in the February 2017 spill of nearly 200,000 litres of crude oil condensate from an Enbridge pipeline at an industrial site near Edmonton.

Jean Laporte, the chief operating officer of the Transportation Safety Board, said his agency will be looking in the coming months into why serious railway accidents have gone up.

"The overall railway accident numbers that increased are what we're going to be analyzing in more detail," said Laporte.

"We're going to dig a bit deeper in the next little while to understand why and see if there's anything that needs to be analyzed further in the coming year."

Pipeline incidents blamed in part on weather

As for the increase in pipeline accidents, Laporte is less worried. He said he believes the main reason they saw a spike in accidents was the fact that 2017 was a rainier year than normal, which caused more soil erosion that exposed pipelines to disruptions and spills.

"We're not particularly concerned about this increase at this time," said Laporte. "Now, in future years, we'll be looking to see whether that becomes a pattern, whether there's a continuous increase or not."

Meanwhile, Statistics Canada also released pipeline data Tuesday that showed the amount of crude oil that flowed through Canadian pipelines in December 2017. According to the data, there has been a 3.9 per cent increase in the amount of oil being transported to and from Canadian oil fields and plants over the last year.

Adam Najmala, an analyst with Statistics Canada, said the increase is most likely due to a stable recovery after the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire shut down oilsands companies and slowed crude oil production across the country.

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